An NBC Connecticut Troubleshooter's investigation has discovered that the Department of Children and Families has mistakenly shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to families that no longer foster children.
According to the investigation, DCF mistakenly paid $200,000 to nine families with subsidized guardianships, but staff members said they did not notice the children in the subsidized guardianships were over the age of 21 or in some cases, living back with their birth parents.
The DCF mistakenly overpaid one family $57,000 and another family got the undeserved payments for six years before officials noticed they were no longer eligible for the money, according to a document NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters obtained from the department.
The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters reached out to DCF commissioner Joette Katz and her staff declined interview requests, but responded through email, saying they are, "taking aggressive steps to recoup the overpayments" and that "the agency takes its responsibility with public resources very seriously."
DCF officials said subsidized guardianships are not assigned caseworkers because they are considered low risk as children are usually placed with family members. However, the agency continues to send monthly payments to families. Foster families receive anywhere from $800 to $1,500 per month, per child. Subsidized guardianships are usually in the $800 range.
Without a caseworker to periodically check in on the children and the money, there’s an opportunity for things to go wrong.
Zoe Stout, an attorney who advocates for foster children, said the problem is DCF staff levels.
"The caseloads are very high and given recent budget cuts, it's only going to get worse," said Stout.
Senator Henry Martin, a ranking member of the legislative Committee on Children, sees the $200,000 overpayment as part of a bigger problem.
"Who's not watching the account or who's not watching the family?" Martin asked. "Who doesn't know that children have aged out?"
We asked officials with the agency for more detailed reports of the mishandled money, they said there aren't any.
According to DCF, there are about 2,300 youths in subsidized guardianship status.
Gary Kleeblatt, a spokesperson for the agency, said they audit the program annually and now have a backup system in place to check a child’s age.
However, he admitted it’s possible the agency might discover more overpayments as they review their cases.